No News

Small underwater asphalt volcanoes have been discovered in the Santa Barbara Channel. They spew oil and tar not unlike the oil seeps along the 150 perhaps, but more focused in their intensity. They are from 50 - 70 feet high. As of this writing, an uncapped off-shore well continues to blow oil, at a depth of around 5000 feet, into the Gulf of Mexico threatening sea-life, fisheries and the beaches of Louisiana. The blow-out is not expected to be capped for several weeks. Governor Schwarznegger has rescinded his approval of new off-shore drilling along the California coast, but Santa Barbara's beaches will continue to be besmirched with oil - there is no plan at present to cap the asphalt volcanoes or remove current drill rigs.

If we are not at the point documented by Peter Maass in his Crude World - The Violent Twilight of Oil, Knopf, New York, 2010, where in the Niger Delta he reports, "We saw pits of burning oil and we saw flames roaring from flares on the ground; the earth was hissing fire," we are never far in Upper Ojai from oil derricks and gas flares; and if Ojai is not yet Ecuador's "mutant panorama of oil fields and gas flares in which crude oozed and burned", Upper Ojai's machinery of oil extraction, storage and distribution is ubiquitous.

For a few days recently, the skies above Ojai were clear of europe-bound jets that fly, almost unnoticed, high above trailing water vapor, carbon dioxide and droplets of un-burnt kerosene.

On Sunday, the air traffic back to its customary pre-volcano volume, we hiked up to the Sulphur Mountain ridge directly across from the Koenigstein property. An Airbus A330 flew high over the Topa Topas while below us a red tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) surfed the thermals. It was a steady climb, much of it under oaks and past banks of lupine (species), coastal wallflower (Erysimum insulare), indian pink (Silene laciniata), heart leaved penstemon (Keckiella cordifolia), wild sweet pea (Lathyrus vestitus) and the invasives spring vetch (Vicia species), mustard (Brassica species), erodium (species) and trifolium (species) and, at intervals, the nodding heads of grasshopper oil pumps. Sometimes alongside the trail were bundles of oil pipe.

We may have wished that Eyjafjallajökull's mate Hekla would blow, prolonging the hiatus in air traffic, but for now the world is back to normal with the negative space above the earth brimming with globe trotters. Everyone of them is effectively destroying whatever other good works they may undertake to reduce their carbon footprints. Will, my elder son, flew back to California from NYC last week. One piece of data that scrolled across his seat back screen was that passengers flying the friendly skies do so at an average of 55 m.p.g. - which works out at about 55 gallons for the 3000 miles or 110 for the round trip. That amount of gas would fuel the family runabout (an Audi A3) for about 2750 miles or a quarter of its annual mileage.

There are other costs to global travel. We catapult ourselves into alien cultures and potentially threatening eco-systems. The results can be bracing and regenerative, merely discombobulating or flat-out catastrophic. It was the latter that confronted a young friend of ours whose girlfriend was killed just last week by a salt water crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) while they were vacationing in the Andaman and Nicobar islands that lie in the sea between Burma and the east coast of India.

The Andaman Sheekha is the local paper that reported the story but despite a web presence the story remains a local one - in the Andamans, New Jersey where the girl's family lives and Los Angeles, home to our friend. News remains local to an extent that few of us, perhaps realize. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is 'front-page' (so to speak), but similar occurrences in Nigeria and Ecuador go unreported. Despite a spate of shark attack stories just preceding the time that Gary Condit was under suspicion of being involved in Chandra Levy's disappearance and a few months before 9-11 the eight or so deaths a year attributable to sharks go mostly unreported, except locally. Similarly, crocodile attacks are not uncommon; by some reports 2,000 people a year are killed by the reptiles, but we hear nothing of them unless they strike someone we know.

News is scalable. A reasonable definition of 'newsworthiness' would reference events that impact the eco-sphere, continents, countries, communities, families and individuals. The focus on politics, celebrity and sport confuses this simple matrix. Ultimately, I believe that the news events I need to know about will have first impacted me in some direct way.

News from Clarissa is that a wild boar (Sus scrofa) is on the loose on Sulphur Mountain. We hiked past the spot where she was confronted by the snorting beast. Her Kangal (the Turkish hunting dog bred to such emergencies) handled the situation. The wild boar is native to North Africa, Europe, Southern Russia, and most of Asia. They were initially introduced to Monterey County in 1924, for hunting. Several years later more were released into the Los Padres National Forest.

Margot reports bear scat on her driveway. We have seen nothing but quail, contrails and western fence lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis). No news is good news.

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